As the seasons change in Texas from winter to spring, our challenges behind the wheel increase. Spring brings rain and sometimes flooding. Both weather conditions call for specific strategies in order to safely maintain control of your vehicle.
First of all, decide if it’s necessary for you to drive in the rain or can you delay your trip until after the rain passes.
If you must drive in the rain, give your self extra time. With slower, more cautious drivers on the road and possible accident delays, a half-hour drive to work could take an hour or more. Don’t be in a hurry!
A FEW WEATHER
Vehicle Road Worthiness:
Before the rain starts, it’s important to make sure your car is prepared for travel in wet driving conditions.
Check your tires and tire pressure regularly. Good tires with plenty of tread are crucial for safe driving on wet pavement. Bald tires reduce your traction on wet pavement and offer little resistance to hydroplaning.
Make sure your headlights, tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals are working properly. On rainy days, other drivers might have difficulty seeing you unless you have your lights on. Some states require the use of headlights whenever the windshield wipers are in use.
Before driving on a rainy day, there are some important aspects of safety to consider before you even start your vehicle.
It is vital that you have good visibility behind the wheel. Make sure windshields and windows are clean before the rains begin. Replace windshield wipers annually. If the wipers are making noise, and you are seeing streaks, it’s time for new wipers.
Make sure your windshield washer fluid reservoir is topped off. With dust and dirt mixing with rain, and dirty water splashing from other vehicles, your washer fluid system is valuable at keeping the windshield clean.
You might also consider turning on the defroster. This will keep the inside of your windshield from “fogging up.” A fogged windshield can be a problem on humid days and especially when the temperatures are cold.
Speed and following distance:
The number one rule for driving on wet pavement is SLOW DOWN. It takes longer to stop your car when the pavement is wet. Increase your following distance behind the car in front of you.
Normal driving conditions call for 3 or 4 seconds of following distance. It’s a good idea to increase that to 4-6 seconds.
More distance gives you extra room in the event the car in in front of you has to brake suddenly for an accident.
Hydroplaning: When rains are heavy and puddles are abundant, there is a danger of vehicles hydroplaning. Hydroplaning is when the tires ride on top of the water. This occurs when your tires move over a wet surface so quickly that they don’t have enough time to displace enough water and contact the surface.
When you hydroplane, the important thing to remember is to not panic or brake suddenly. Simply ease your foot off the accelerator. This allows the tires to slow down and effectively displace water with the tire treads. When you lift your foot off the gas, it causes a shift of the vehicle weight to the front tires which allows for better traction.
To lessen the risk of hydroplaning, drive in the middle lanes of the road, where there is less ponding and puddling of water.
And watch the cars ahead of you: if excessive water is splashing up from their tires at certain spots, you’ll know that the water is especially deep there. Change lanes to avoid those spots or slow down even more so your tires’ tread can handle the work.
Skidding Strategy: The best way to avoid skidding is to slow down and avoid sudden steering, braking, or acceleration. Cars are more susceptible to skidding at the beginning of the rain when oil and dirt on the roadway mixes with water causing the pavement to become very slippery.
The once taught strategy of “steering in the direction of the skid” can be a bit confusing. The newer approach for handling a skid is to slowly let off the gas and steer in the direction that you want the front end of the car to travel.
DON’T USE CRUISE CONTROL
Using cruise control in the rain is dangerous because if your car begins to hydroplane the cruise control thinks you are going slower and will make the vehicle accelerate. This can cause an even greater loss of vehicle control.
Also, drivers usually disengage their cruise control by braking. This braking could put your vehicle into a dangerous skid.
When rains are particularly heavy or the ground is wet from the previous days rains, you may experience flooded driving conditions. Consider the route you will travel and question if there could possibly be flooded conditions. Flooding can occur when there is no place for the water to drain, sometimes under overpasses. Crossing a bridge over a small creek can flood if the rains are heavy enough.
If you see barriers closing off a roadway, do not drive around them.
One problem with driver’s choices during flooding is they underestimate the force of water. Water flowing very fast can not only knock an average adult off their feet, it can also displace a vehicle in shallow water. Only 12 inches of rushing water could sweep your vehicle off the road and into deeper, more dangerous water, and it only takes two feet of water to make a 3000-pound car float like a boat.
Texas has a public service warning to “Turn around, don’t drown.” It’s good advice: flash flooding is the #1 weather-related cause of deaths in Texas.
BE ALERT !!!
When the military wants soldiers to be on high alert and be hyper-vigilant, they tell them to “stay frosty.”
But very often people drive with their brains on auto pilot without much attention to their actual driving. It’s too easy to feel safe or even over-confident when you’re on the daily commute that you take every day. So people let themselves day-dream and can be distracted by their own thoughts, underestimating how hazardous driving can be. This is dangerous when conditions are good, but it’s especially so when the roads are wet.
When Mother Nature presents you with driving challenges by rain and floods, be more attentive to your driving.